This post is for those planning a hike on the Colorado Trail. I don’t like to keep track of statistics for the sake of competitive comparisons with other hikers but I do think it is helpful for someone planning their own hike. Everyone has a different goal when pursuing a long distance hike. Our goal was to finish the hike and every part of the planning was to help our chances of making it all the way. Lightweight but adequate gear and minimizing luxury items were a couple of the strategies we used to ensure a successful hike. I also tried to add a few resupply stops to keep our packs light, especially in the north half of the trail. Town stops are a double edge sword because it breaks up the trip into smaller segments but town stops can also suck the will to hike out of you, especially if the weather is not perfect.
My backpack base weight (less food, water, and fuel) was around 15 pounds until we switched shelters at Leadville. Then my base weight was about 15 1/2 pounds. Changing shelters lowered Holli’s pack weight from 13 to 12 pounds. She may have added some weight back by including a set of “town clothes” in Breckenridge. On the longer resupply sections I would carry all the food and give the lighter tent to Holli for a few days. As we ate the food, I would then take the tent back to lighten her load. I carried little more than 28 pounds and maybe 30 if the water bottles were filled. I tried to carry a quart of water or less between water sources but a few days between Salida and Creede it was necessary to carry more.
We had planned two rest days or “zero days”. Breckenridge was our first planned stop but we rested for two days due to a fever and headache I was fighting on our day off. Creede was the other stop. I considered pushing on without a rest in Creede but thunderstorms were passing over the mountains that day so we may not have covered many miles anyway. I am not willing to risk hiking above tree line when lightning is a possibility. I like to cover miles but sometimes you walk faster when you are not dead. Some hikers continue in those conditions but there is no equipment or skill that can protect you. If you are outside, you are vulnerable in an electrical storm. Hiking above tree line makes you the tallest object.
Our total miles were 410 by trail. We had a few extra miles walking to Twin Lakes, taking a wrong turn in segment 14, and walking off trail to get to Creede. We were on the trail for 29 days and walked for 26 days. It likely would have been 33 and 30 had we continued on to Durango. Our average day was 15.8 miles or 14.1 miles if you include the three rest days. Our longest day was about 23 miles but we did several days in a row near 20 miles per day.
Here is a daily log of our hike:
August 7 – 16.8 miles
August 8 – 11.5 miles
August 9 – 13.2 miles
August 10 – 16.6 miles
August 11 – 18.1 miles
August 12 – 15.2 miles
August 13 – 13.0 miles
August 14 – 12.8 miles
August 15 – Breckenridge
August 16 – Breckenridge
August 17 – 8 miles
August 18 – 17.4 miles (Leadville)
August 19 – 14.8 miles
August 20 – 19 miles (Twin Lakes)
August 21 – 21.4 miles
August 22 – 18.7 miles
August 23 – 13.7 miles (Mt. Princeton)
August 24 – 12.5 miles
August 25 – 10.4 miles (Salida)
August 26 – 14.3 miles
August 27 – 21.9 miles (plus 1/2 mile to Baldy Lake)
August 28 – 22.5 miles (plus 1/2 mile from Baldy Lake)
August 29 – 19.8 miles
August 30 – 11.4 miles (plus 1 mile to Forest Road 503)
August 31 – Creede
September 1 – 17.4 miles (plus 1 1/2 miles back to trail)
Semptember 5, 2015
I did the math a few weeks ago and knew that many events would need to fall into place in order for Holli and I to finish the trail by September 8th.
Holden (Holli’s son) graduates from basic combat training at Fort Sill, OK on the 10th. We have completed 410 miles of the Colorado Trail and 75 miles reamain to Durango. That leaves us with four days and 18.7 miles per day to finish on the 8th, drive six or seven hours to Denver, and then ten or twelve hours to Oklahoma. The math works to complete the trail but everything has to go perfect including the weather.
We walked to the trailhead at Molas Pass yesterday under heavy cloud cover and rain. The rain continued most of the afternoon and night in Silverton.
We had dinner with Brad while doing all of our laundry. The laundromat was located at a campground near the Hungry Moose Bar & Grill so we enjoyed dinner while I ran back and forth moving clothes from the washer to the dryer and back to the restaurant.
The Blair Street Hostel (hikers, bikers, and dogs included) was home for the night and some hikers came down from the pass after us and reported snow and near whiteout conditions above 12,000 feet. The weather wasn’t helping our case for moving on.
Holli finally made the decision to finish our hike at Silverton. I left the decision in her hands and she made the right choice. It would have been a fun challenge to finish in four days but the travel to Oklahoma would not have been fun. Besides, I would not want Holli to miss any time with Holden.
I felt a little sad watching Brad prepare his pack for the final leg of the trip but also knew that I was greatful for making it this far without incident. We met many extraordinary people on and off the trail. I have seen Colorado in a way that relatively few visitors will experience.
Holli has transformed herself from a very green hiker to a competent long distance trekker. She has battled through cold, heat, rain, sleet, hail, lightning, sore feet, blisters, aching knees, dirt, sweat, sunburn, smell, wild animals (fear of), and trail food. She probably has 75 more miles left in her but doing it in four days would have been a challenge.
So for now we will plan to finish the trail next summer. We had also chosen to take the East Collegiate Route between Twin Lakes and Marshall Pass. We can now go back and complete the West Collegiate alternative route which adds 80 miles through the Collegiate Peaks.
We said goodbye to Brad after having lunch with him. Brad was heading back to the trail later today. Rain and thick clouds were still surrounding the peaks over Silverton so he was waiting for the rain to pass before venturing on.
Holli and I took the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad to Durango. I chose the outside gondola car and enjoyed the soot from the steam powered engine. The scenery was enjoyable but I missed the trail already.
September 6, 2015
I think we booked the last hotel room available in Durango. Motorcycles were in town for a Labor Day bike rally so hotel rooms were in tight supply. We are now headed back to Denver in a rental car.
August 31, 2015
Thunderstorms rocked the mountain tops around Creede this morning so we decided to take the day off. Holli and I hustled to get laundry done, groceries purchased, and a good meal on Sunday night so today was our day to relax.
We toured the historical museum, visited a few local shops, and ate a lot of food while watching the storms pass over the mountains. Creede has a rich mining history but tourism is the main economy today.
September 1, 2015
Holli and I met a fellow hiker from Texas yesterday. Brad joined Holli and I on our ride back to the trailhead at San Luis pass. Local trail angel, Debbie, picked up our trio at the Snow Shoe Lodge and drove us up the rugged forest road to the pass. Shoe took us as far as Willow Creek and we walked the remaining two miles back to the Colorado Trail.
Snow Mesa was the featured obstacle to cross today. A steep climb out of the pass took us to near thirteen thousand feet, down 1,200, back up a thousand to finally lead us to Snow Mesa. The Mesa is a six mile expanse of rolling alpine tundra that sits above 12,00o feet elevation. The treeless expanse was bordered by rounded mountains to the north and fell into a deep canyon to the south. Thousands of acres spread across the vast roof top of the world. Jagged peaks of the San Juan mountains stretched across the western horizon miles away.
A flock of sheep covered a hillside to our right with the sheep herder standing guard. A thunderhead with a vail of rain drifted along on our left. Thunder rumbled on occasion and pushed Holli and I to cover ground faster but the Shepard stood his ground without flinching. His horse stood tall and brilliant against the green and gold tundra thought he was probably a mile or more away.
We covered the Mesa in a couple of hours and rain fell as we descended from the tundra back into spruce trees. Spring Creek Pass was a thousand feet below us and soon could hear highway noise as trucks lumbered up the steep grade and crested the pass.
Brad, Holli, and I stopped at the trailhead and took advantage of the picnic tables for a late afternoon snack. Rain showers had moved on and a soft evening glow led us two and a half miles to our camp area. Tree line was visible several hundred yards to the west and a cow moose grazed on the trail 50 yards away. We decided to give her the trail for the night as we slipped into the woods to find a level spot for our tents.
September 2, 2015
We left the trees and began a near 30 mile stretch of alpine tundra hiking this morning. The moose had left the area by morning sunlight filled the meadow that seemed so dark and mysterious the evening before.
The climb away from treeline was gradual and lifted us to the another broad Mesa with 360 degree views. Clouds soon obscured the blue sky and again the hike became a race against thunder
We reached the high point of the Colorado Trail (13,271 feet above sea level) around noon after walking through rain, sleet, and hail for a few miles. The sun appeared for awhile as we took a lunch break at the top and visited with a couple of section hikers.
We descended 500 feet from the high point but the trail stayed between 12,000 and 13,000 feet for the rest of the day.
We dropped into Carson Saddle as a thunderstorm passed to the south. We took refuge next some old mining ruins as the storm rumbled across the towering peaks overhead. We were back on the trail after a half our rest only to dodge another storm passing to our west a couple of miles later.
The magic of the trail once again revealed itself as we watched a group of five bull moose graze in the valley below us as we headed toward the final pass on our way to Cataract Lake and our camp area for the night.
We reached the pass as the storm moved away and thick gray clouds replaced the billowing thunderhead. The warm air below the pass turned into a stiff damp wind as we descended into the valley and arrived at the lake. We managed to cover 20 miles of rugged terrain in thin air and less than pleasant weather. The scenery…well…some of the most outstanding I have every witnessed.
September 3, 2015
The alarm went off at 5:40 am as usual but I could tell through the tent walls that it was overcast. I laid in my quilt trying to summon the strength to get up and tear down camp but the cold air kept me still. A flash of lightning in the morning darkness added an edge of tension to the morning as well. Lightning is serious enough in the trees but positively terrifying when you are at 12,000 plus feet and more than fifteen miles from treeline by trail.
Light rain pelted the tent and I knew our only option was to walk out way out of this. We had camped near Brad and he agreed with our plan to keep moving despite the potential light show.
Lightning wasn’t an issue for the rest of the morning fortunately. Thick gray clouds, fog, rain, and sleet pelted us as we worked our way around mountains and through passes. The scenery was indescribable at every turn as fog gave way to towering mountains and deep valleys. The perspective given by the inclement weather turned the rugged Colorado mountains into an alien world that seemed millions of miles from home. Pictures in books or magazines could never capture the landscape we travelled through. My cold, stinging fingers and shortness of breath were the reminders that I was a part of this.
The sky began to clear by early afternoon. The overcast sky kept the thunderstorm development at bay and I was unsure how to feel as the sun burned through the clouds.
Holli and I hiked with Brad for the rest of the day. We passed another flock of sheep and marveled at the rugged terrain they were able to graze. The Shepard looked on as the wooly critters swarmed the mountain top.
We covered another large expanse of rolling alpine tundra as we left the rugged peaks and headed toward the Animas River valley. Thunder began to echo off of the distant peaks just as we topped 12,600 feet and began the long descent following Elk Creek.
We dropped for several miles into the canyon and back into the lush forest. It had been more than 36 hours above treeline and the forest seemed like a long lost friend. It was warmer too.
September 4, 2015
The clearing sky was short lived as day broke with overcast skies. I was penalized again for not breaking camp when the alarm went off and soon rail pelted the tent canopy.
We packed up the sleeping gear and put on our hiking clothes while eating a light breakfast in the tent. The rain soon stopped and we packed up the wet tent and headed toward the Animas River crossing and Silverton eleven miles away.
Steady rain fell as we passed several tents of weekend hikers lining the trail. The rain persisted for the next few hours as our feet had become waterlogged and the trail a mess of puddles and small streams of water.
We reached the river before noon and began the steep swithbacks on the far side. The narrow gauge train whistled as we rose a thousand feet above the valley. Fog cloaked the mountain tops as the train lumbered along deep in the river valley.
We reached the trailhead at the highway and tried to work our charm for a ride into Silverton. Three muddy hikers were not appealing to most of the visitors at the trailhead so we resorted to the cell phone. Within twenty minutes we had a ride. Jan at the Blair Street Hostel in Silverton came to our rescue.
Rocky Mountain Taxi brought Holli and me back to the Colorado Trail. Low clouds and an overcast sky set the mood for the day just as the thunderstorm yesterday ushered us down to Highway 50.
A long gradual ascent along South Fooses Creek eventually led us to the Continental Divide at 11,908 feet above sea level. The forest along the creek was brilliant green after the rain. The air was filled with a fresh pine scent and piles of pea sized hail still lingered from yesterday’s storm.
We topped the divide and began a long ridge walk with a view of the mountains to the south and west. A line of dark clouds clothed the distant peaks and rain showers were visible as rumbles of thunder warned us to move quickly.
We worked our way below tree line and a cold rain began to fall. We caught up with Ryan and Julie as the four of us worked our way toward the Marshall Pass trailhead.
Holli and I led the way down as Ryan and Julie ducked under trees to try and shield themselves from the rain as Ryan’s jacket wasn’t as waterproof as advertised.
After two miles of soaking rain and wind we spotted the cabin to our left. We arrived at the trailhead and took a short walk on the road and found the cabin unclaimed for the night.
Ryan and Julie took a short cut to the trailhead and missed the cabin. They set up camp in the rain and later paid us a visit when the rain subsided. Abby was also camping at the trailhead but she arrived before the rain set in.
August 27, 2015
The cabin was welcome refuge from the rain. More rain fell in the night and the wind blew drops from the trees until after sunrise. It was nice to not pack up a wet tent but I knew we would be hiking in cold wet weather today.
We had 90 miles to cover in five days and our 14 plus yesterday put us behind schedule. I mapped out a plan to cover 22 miles and get us back on track. Water sources are 11 to 12 miles apart for much of this section of trail so would dictate where we camp.
We left the cabin and began a gradual rise back to near 12,000 feet. Thick fog and mist covered the mountain and sealed us off from the large views we knew from the day before. The forest looked dark and mysterious under the heavy sky.
The trail took us near treeline and a cold damp wind blasted the small spruce trees surrounded by meadow. A few cattle bawled through the fog and wind. We couldn’t see them but the herd must have been 50 feet below us.
The world was closed in because of the weather but the atmosphere around the Colorado Trail changed when we left Highway 50. Day hikers were gone, only five mountain bikers passed us yesterday, and no roads, buildings, power lines, or other man made intrusions could be seen from up high. I felt the solitude of empty wilderness for the first time.
Our lunch stop for the day was on a damp log near the trail in a pure stand of lodge pole pines. Fog still cloaked the tree tops but the mist had abated.
As we sat eating and gazing into the empty forest, motion caught my eye. A lone cow elk crossed 50 yards in front of us. The ghostly creature moved in silence and disappeared into the fog.
The high point of our day was achieved at the end of segment 16 were a faint jeep track crossed the trail at Sargents Mesa. Views of the Sangra de Cristo Mountains could be seen to the southeast many miles away across a broad plain.
The clouds lifted as the day wore on and by 7:00 pm we reached the trail intersection to Baldy Lake, our camp for the night. The lake was our only water source within miles so the 1/2 mile walk off trail (the CT anyway) was necessary. Almost 23 miles were covered today and most of it in blustery conditions.
Ryan, Julie, Abby, Peter, and Alyse all joined us for the night. A bright moon lit up the night as we all escaped the cool breeze in our tents.
August 28, 2015
Holli and I were the first to leave camp this morning and said goodbye to our trail community. We were shooting for a longer day than the rest as Abby was getting off tub trail to resupply in Gunnison along with Elise. Peter was suffering from a lower leg injury and was taking some time off at the trailhead as well. Ryan and Julie were planning a lower mileage day.
We loaded up with water and set out to finish the rest of segment 17 and beyond. We took a break at Razor Creek which had a campsite but the creek was dry.
I was leaning over getting the food bag out of my backpack as I noticed a horses head enter my peripheral vision. The horse was reaching for some grass along the trail and after a moment of curious pause I then noticed the rider. The cowboy silently allowed me to respond and we greeted each other. The gentleman spoke with an easy Texas drawl. He was scouting for elk and had ridden up from a nearby trailhead. We shared our elk encounter from the previous day and he shared that most of the elk were above 12,000 feet. He hadn’t heard any bugling yet and commented that it would be a tough start for the archery season slated to open tomorrow as bow hunters rely on bugling to call in bulls.
Near the end of segment 17 a hiker caught up with us as we were walking on a forest service road heading to the highway. His name was Benjamin and he was hiking the Continental Divide Trail southbound. Carlisle, England was his home and he had come to the United States for a grand adventure. He was over 1,800 miles into his hike and estimated that 900 remained to the Mexican border. 250 hikers began the journey south and Benjamin figured that at least 200 had quit. His 25 mile per day average had put him two weeks ahead of most of his companions and he mentioned that he might wait in northern New Mexico until they catch up. He didn’t want to be totally alone in the less travelled parts to the south of Colorado.
We entered a patchwork of forest and open meadows as we crossed the highway and made our way into segment 18. By late evening we arrived at Los Creek and set up camp in the open meadow 100 feet above. Cold, damp air was settling into the valley and it was ten degrees warmer up on the grassy bench above the creek.
The full moon rise above the eastern horizon as we crawled under our quilts. The silence was deafening and I gazed out at the dark forest that bordered the empty meadow until my eyes wouldn’t stay open anymore. All was silent until Holli started snoring anyway.
August 29, 2015
Another near 23 mile day to Los Creek put us well into segment 18. The easy terrain and open range made for a really enjoyable change from the forests and alpine areas of the last 300 miles. We set out to see how far our legs could carry us today.
We met a man riding a motor cross bike on the trail this morning. A blue healer dog was sitting on the gas tank with his head over the man’s shoulder. It looked odd but we soon realized that the motorcyclist was a rancher. There were two motor bikes and the dog pushing heifers toward a corral. The dog worked the cattle masterfully and soon the herd was pushed from the far end of a 1,000 acre pasture into the gates of the corral.
We stopped for water by the road and the friendly ranchers stopped to talk and make sure we were alright. They were moving the heifers back home to Saguache for the winter.
We left segment 18 and entered 19 by early afternoon. The landscape began to change as we entered the Cochetopa Creek watershed. A few trout fisherman were parked above the creek. We visited with a gentleman from Texas before we left the two-track road and began the trail along the creek. Holli is still polishing her yogi skills but I had to get her away from the nice man when she bluntly asked for a beer. I think she was kidding but I was embarrassed enough to move on. Yogi is a term used by hikers to describe the begging that we often engage in when near more civilized campers (as in Yogi the Bear).
Cochetopa Creek led us up and away from the broad meadows and the mountains on either side began to close in. The creek formed gentle pools behind the many beaver dams and raced over rapids in between. Beavers had cut aspen trees nearly 1/4 mile from the water and 100-200 feet above the stream. Trout were sometimes visible in the clear pools.
Our first major stream crossing occurred at a washed out log bridge. We made the crossing on bare feet but the smooth rocks and cold water were good therapy for our feet.
We arrived at the Eddiesville Trailhead around 5:30pm to finish segment 19. We pushed on another mile and a half into segment 20 and camped above Cotchetopa Creek on a boad grassy bench. We were just inside the boundary for the La Garita Widerness.
I set up camp as Holli prepared supper. The meal was instant mashed potato with bacon crumbles, freeze dried vegetables, powdered milk, and Parmesan cheese mixed together. One of the best meals on the trail so far.
I watched trout jump and rise in the creek and soon retired to the tent for another moonlit evening slumber.
August 30, 2015
The goal for today was finish segment 20 at the top of San Luis Pass, walk a mile off-trail to a jeep road and hope for the best in getting a ride to Creede nine miles away.
We walked along the creek towards the headwaters and saw many more beaver dams as we climbed up the valley. Some of the dams were six feet or more tall and the backwaters teemed with trout. The trail was narrow and overgrown in places and truly felt wild. Moose tracks covered the trail in places.
We broke out above treeline and gained the ridge of San Luis Peak. At 14,014 feet it is the most easily climbed 14’er near the Colorado Trail. We passed on the opportunity as town as our focus.
The mountains beyond were reward enough though as the landscape over the pass was extremely different from any we had hiked through before. The mountains seemed more jagged, the valleys deeper, and rock formations towered over the alpine bowl were we stood on the edge. We had finally arrived at the San Juan Mountains.
We entered the new world in awe of the ridge line high overhead and the steep alpine tundra below. We circled the bowl and dropped to treeline on the other side. The trail stayed above 12,000 feet for nearly four miles as we made our way to San Luis Pass and th end of segment 20.
We reached the pass around 12:30pm as dark clouds boiled up around us. Sunshine broke through in patched as we left the Colorado Trail and began the one mile walk down to the jeep road. We kept our fingers crossed that a Good Samaritan would help us get to Creede.
We neared the rough parking lot and could see four SUV’s parked on the open mountainside. I noticed the door open on the driver side and told Holli to hurry or we might miss our chance.
We hit the parking lot and the woman was taking pictures of her husband finishing the trail behind us. Carol and Dan are from Fort Collins and Dan has been completing sections of the CT on weekends over the last several years.
Dan started segment 19 before 6 am this morning and ran over 26 miles to the end of segment 20. He completed both segments in a little less than eight hours.
I don’t know who was more pleased to have a ride, Dan or Holli and I, but it was amazing how the timing worked.
Carol drove the suburban down the jeep road in 4WD Lo and the transmission in first gear and her foot on the brake. We lumbered over pot holes, washouts, crossed streams, rocks, and navigated hairpin turns before finally reaching the “gravel” road.
Carol and Dan dropped off in Creede and visited for awhile until we snapped a few pictures together and said our goodbyes. People like Carol and Dan make adventures like this possible. I am grateful for their kindness.
Completing segment 20 put us at 342 miles on the Colorado Trail. There are eight segments remaining which cover the highest terrain and the San Juan Mountains.
August 24, 2015
The hot springs at Mt. Princeton were hard to leave behind but our little trail family pushed onward, after a morning soak of course.
Dan and Lyndsey were leaving us and walked with Ryan and Julie to the top of the 1,000 foot climb above the Chalk Creek Trailhead. They turned around while Ryan and Julie continued on. Holli and I walked ahead to try and get a jump on our 20 mile push to Salida for resupply.
The day was going well and the first six miles went by relatively easy. However, we took a wrong turn at an intersection that was clearly marked. We both interpreted the sign incorrectly and walked a mile and a half to a trailhead.
Our three mile mistake was easy enough to correct but it took the steam out of our attitudes. We ended up stopping to camp 10 miles into segment 14 when we should have had 12 or more miles done. Ryan and Julie already had camp set up and were working on supper. On a positive note, mile 242 from Denverput our camp near the midway point of the Colorado Trail.
August 25, 2015
After a warm night and pleasant morning we broke camp and headed for highway 50. The trail was pleasant as it passed through some cattle pastures, aspen groves, and pine forests.
We talked to local hikers Jim and Mary at one point near a trailhead. They lived on a ranch a few miles away and knew this section well. They told us about wild turkeys, elk, moose, and bear they had seen over the years. We told them about the squirrels and marmots we had seen on the trail.
We then hiker further and met Ryan and Julie for lunch at the North Fork of the Arkansas River. Soon after we caught up with hikers Connie and Judy. We had met them at the Leadville hostel a few days earlier. We hiked together the last couple of miles to the highway as rain and thunder escorted us out of the mountains.
Lucky for us, Connie and Judy had a ride prearranged at the trailhead. Ron and Connie happily drove us to Salida and dropped us off near the Simple Lodge Hostel. The hostel owner double booked the private room we were given and gave us free bunks in the dormitory. We offered to pay at least something but he insisted our lodging was on the house.
August 21, 2015
The thermometer outside the cabin in Twin Lakes read 33 degrees this morning. It didn’t seem that cold with the sun rising and the dry air. We visited with the cabin owner for awhile after getting breakfast from the general store and began walking at 9:15 am.
Twin Lakes was a natural lake but has been deepened with a dam and spillway at the east end. The Colorado trail took us to the east end of the lake and around to the south side. We walked back west along the lake for a few miles before climbing back into the mountains.
We are starting to get out “trail legs” because after finishing the 15 miles in Segment 11 we still had time and energy left to attempt a 2,500 foot vertical climb up to the shoulder of Mt. Waverly.
We finished segment 11 by following the trail into a wide open valley. A ranch with freshly mowed hay was visible to the west and a campground and RV park to the east. A series of switchbacks led us down from the ponderosa forest through sagebrush, yucca, and prickly pear cactus to the flat valley floor. It then led us through the campground to a bridge over Clear Creek.
The sun was beating down and a hot wind made for the perfect summer setting. I washed my feet in the cold water as young girl and her father played in the rocks near shore. The place was peaceful and I could have camped there listening to the water and warm summer wind.
However, the 2,500 foot climb was still ahead. We had six miles to go before the next camp area inside the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness.
We left the river and began segment 12 as switchbacks eased us onto the mountainside before turning into a steep grade that seemed to go on forever. I told Holli to set a slow and steady pace. I carried a quart of water from the stream and stopped her every half hour for a drink.
We made good time because we crested the top of the ridge well under two hours for the three mile climb only stopping once for water at a high mountain spring. The cool air was comforting as we turned down toward the valley below and three more miles to camp.
Twenty one miles and 10 hours of hiking brought us to a stunning camp area near Pine Creek. I grabbed the first camping spot we came to as the weekend crowd was beginning to arrive. Eight or nine tents were scattered about by the time we had set up camp and had supper cooking.
Deep sleep was the reward (aside from the view of Collegiates).
August 22, 2015
We slept in a little after our tough day but still managed to walk by 8:15 am. Another steep climb took us out of the valley. We created the ridge an hour later and met our friends Ryan and Julie at the top. We hadn’t seen them since Breckenridge but knew they were less than a half day ahead of us.
We rested with them and caught up on our adventures over the last week. Another couple of northbound thru-hikers crested the ridge as we began to leave. They had left Durango on August 1st and were headed to Denver. The tall red-haired hiker offered us a shot of whiskey since it was 9:30 am and we were all on top of a mountain. It didn’t sound good at first but then I thought how rude of me it was to refuse after this guy carried whiskey all the way from who-knows-where? So we all enjoyed a sip of whiskey to get our day started.
We finished segment 12 and had another bit of trail magic near the river at the start of segment 13. A family was letting thier one year old play in the stream after their day hike and offered us the left over food. We ate it as we watched the little guy have a ball in the cold water.
We left the river to begin our second brutal climb of the day. This one was as high as the day before but had two steeper sections with a short flat meadow in between.
We topped the ridge in late afternoon and were greeted with an expansive view of Mt. Princeton to the south, Yale to the west, and Harvard to the north. The sun was still warm at 12,000 feet and we took our time before descending the punishing switchbacks on the other side. 18.5 miles ended our day at the trailhead below.
Our third episode of trail magic occurred in camp as Ryan’s friend from Breckenridge met us with food and beer. We ate supper by the light of a campfire.
August 23, 2015
The race was on for our destination today. Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort sits directly on the Colorado Trail and we were all eager to get there.
We covered 14 miles to arrive by early afternoon. The springs were relaxing and now we are sharing a cabin with Ryan, Julie, Lyndsey, and Dan (Julie’s father).
August 19, 2015
Leadville, despite the rugged appearance, was a wonderful but short resupply stop. Our mountain biker friends dropped us at the Safeway grocery store for resupply, then we walked a mile to the hostel.
The hostel was full so we were fortunate to get the last room. A 100 mile ultra-marathon is scheduled for the coming Saturday and most of the hostel guests were runners preparing for the race. Quincy’s bar/restaurant had a ten dollar, six ounce filet that is my favorite meal on the trip so far.
The hostel owner shuttled us back to the trail head at Tennessee Pass around 10am. After a few minutes observing the 10th Mountain Division Memorial at the trail head we entered the woods and continued southbound on the Colorado Trail.
Several cabins or huts are located near this section of trail so many hikers we met were going to and from the cabins. The huts are part of the 10th Mountain Division Hut system. They are available for rent 12 months a year for skiers and hikers.
The weather was very good and maybe fall like with a brisk wind, cool temperatures, and blue skies. Holli kept her long pants and fleece on most of the day.
The Holy Cross Wilderness was the highlight of the day as we enjoyed a moderate hike to a meadow and stream crossing. The trail then rose through the ponderosa pines, lodge pole pines, Engleman spruce, and finally leveled out at tree line.
Holli was struggling today with sore feet and a case of low energy. We stopped for an afternoon lunch by a mountain spring and re-laced her shoes. I also made her drink water until she felt sick.
The water was helping Holli feel better but we both missed a trail marker near Bear Lake. It’s easy to get lost in your thoughts as you hike so this was a good reminder to snap out of it occasionally and look around. We hiked about 1/4 mile off route before the path started to deteriorate. We backtracked until we found our mistake.
We made it a short day as we finished the 13.6 miles in Segment 9 and hiked 1.2 miles into Segment 10. We camped by Busk Creek. The sound of the cascading stream put me right to sleep.
August 20, 2015
The trail to us on a 1,000 foot climb to start the morning. Another blue sky greeted us as we topped the ridge and found a stream to get water for breakfast. Holli and I have tried to hike a few miles between packing up camp and eating breakfast. I am not sure if this routine will last but I think she likes eating breakfast in the warm sunshine rather than the cold air that has greeted us the last several mornings.
There were many day hikers again today. Trail heads for Mt. Massive and Mt. Elbert (Colorado’s two highest peaks) are located nearby and both use part of the Colorado Trail as the approach. The perfect weather was good for CT hikers and peak baggers.
We met a group of four hikers late in the afternoon. Before we could say hello the eldest man (60ish) ran up to Holli and pleaded in a southern drawl “we’re lost! Can you help us?” He tried to explain where they parked but all we could offer was where we had been and not to look where we had come from. We let them look at our guide book and I opened the GPS on my phone to at least give them the current altitude. They all seemed too frantic to listen so we continued on the CT while they continued on a side trail. We found what they were looking for 1/2 mile later and soon I could hear them running down the trail. Hopefully, they make it home safely tonight.
Holli was feeling much better today and it was a good thing. We covered 19 miles to arrive at Twin Lakes Village for resupply. The General Store stayed open for us while we had supper at the Twin Lakes Inn.
Our accommodations for the evening are in a rustic cabin built in the 1920’s. The temperature was already in the upper 40’s by dark so I lit a fire in the stove and that is where I sit as I’m thumbing this blog entry into the iPhone.
August 17, 2015
Holli and I had planned to take a day off in Breckenridge but ended up taking two days off. I spent most of Saturday laying in bed with a fever and the chills. I was better by Saturday night but took Sunday off as I was still feeling a little weak. Holli occupied her time with eating and shopping on both days.
We also had a surprise visit from Holli’s brother, sister-in-law, and nephew on Saturday night. They came up from Denver to escape the heat.
We left Breckenridge on Monday morning via the Summit Stage bus and arrived at Copper Mountain around 10 am, a bit later than ideal.
The trail took us past the ski lifts at Copper and soon we were headed south and west into the mountains. Storms threatened as we neared tree line so we opted to camp with only eight miles behind us.
Thunder and light rain helped to confirm our decision to stop early. I read a few chapters out of my book while Holli napped and explored camp between rain showers.
August 18, 2015
Leadville was our next town stop so I enticed Holli with real food so we could get up early and knock out 17.5 miles by early afternoon.
The morning was cold but the sky was a beautiful blue. There was frost on the small tundra plants as the trail escaped tree line and meandered toward Searle Pass.
Once over the pass we enjoyed five miles of alpine scenery. Marmots and picas squeaked and chirped as we rounded each turn. A flock of sheep was the last interesting feature we experienced as the trail dropped back into the forest.
The rest of the hike took us past the ruins of Camp Hale where the 10th Mountain Division trained during World War II.
Finally, we arrived at the Tennessee Pass trail head on Hwy. 24 but we needed to get into Leadville 9 miles away. We have been courteous to mountain bikers for the entirety of our hike and possibly the good karma has paid off. Two bikers hollered at us from across the parking lot and offered us a ride to Leadville. They had their bikes loaded with just enough room left for our packs.
We are staying at the Leadville Hostel for a short night and we will be moving on to Twin Lakes.
August 14, 2015
Today we set out to complete segment 7 on the Colorado Trail. The trail crosses the Ten Mile Range on this segment going from Hwy. 9 north of Breck to the parking area at Copper Mountain Resort. We left most of our gear at the Fireside Inn and did a day hike with food, water, and raingear.
The 12.8 miles were the most challenging part of the trail yet as we climbed for nearly 8 miles with the last three being steep and mostly above treeline.
I let my guard down this morning as we attempted to be on the trail around 8:30 am. A long breakfast line at Daily Donuts put us an hour and a half behind schedule.
Puffy white clouds were already forming as we left the bus stop and headed west on the trail. If I had to do it over I would have not attempted the hike and waited for tomorrow. But we made it without incident.
We reached treeline on a spectacular set of switchbacks that led to a small saddle between peaks. The town of Breckenridge was laid out in the valley to our left and the peaks of the Ten Mile were on our right.
Holli had never climbed this high before and was both impressed and frightened. I didn’t tell her we had another 1,000 feet to climb figuring it might cause her to turn around.
We climbed gradually for a few more miles above treeline until we reached the high point of the day at 12,500 feet. Copper Mountain was now visible on our right as we crossed between Peak 5 and Peak 6.
We met another couple at the top who where thru-hiking the CT as well. A nine year old boy and his mother had made it to the top so Holli settled down a bit after seeing the brave young man.
Black clouds were forming on the peaks around us so we quickly made our way down the other side. Rain was falling over Interstate 70 and Vail Pass to the north. Lightining struck a peak a few miles away from us but was too far away to hear the thunder. We hustled down anyway.
It didn’t rain on us until we reached the parking lot at Copper. A mountain biker we met on the trail gave us a ride to Frisco in his car and we made our way back to Breckenridge on the Summit Stage bus.
The Colorado Trail (CT) is often described as America’s most scenic long trail. I haven’t been on very many of the great hikes across the USA but so far I must agree.
Holli and I set out on this adventure a year ago and we were turned back by a series of fierce thunderstorms. The summer monsoon winds bring moist air across Colorado’s Rocky Mountains and afternoon thunderstorms are a daily occurrence in July and August. The intensity was a little more than we expected and caused us to rethink our hike.
The monsoon is active again this year but so far we have found a rhythm that was lacking a year ago. We worked on lightening our gear and I have finally made Holli a believer in getting an early start each day (before 8 am).
August 7, 2015
We set out from Waterton Canyon on the west side of Denver on Friday. The CT is divided into 28 segments and we began segment 1 as a day hike carrying our packs and enough food for the day. I dropped Holli at the trail head and then drove to the end of segment 1 at the South Platte River trailhead. I hiked backwards and gave the car keys to Holli when we met in the middle. She would then pick me up at Waterton Canyon.
I thought it would be good for her to hike alone, we could both acclimate to the elevation with a light load, get our feet conditioned for the upcoming miles, and spend the night in Englewood with Holli’s brother Bradd and sister-in-law Susan. The plan worked well except for Holli hiking alone. I caught her at a creek crossing about eight miles into the hike. She had already made friends with two young hikers named Sam and Lauren. I had also crossed paths with hikers Ryan and Julie. They are from Breckenridge and are attempting to hike to Durango as well.
August 8, 2015
We returned to the trail on Saturday accompanied by Bradd and Susan. They are attempting to complete the Colorado Trail by doing a few segments each year.
Segment two was impacted by a large forest fire a decade or more in the past. The fire devastated the standing timber but left a beautiful carpet of wildflowers and stunning views of the foothills and mountains.
Bradd and I dropped the ladies at the South Platte while we drove to the end of the segment and hiked backwards. Lucky the dog was our trusty companion. He kept us safe from chipmunks and shady characters.
August 9, 2015
After another night in civilization, segment 3 marked the beginning of our self supported hike. Bradd, Susan, Holli, and I walked together on our final day. Segment 3 is popular with mountain bikers as are segments 1&2. We spent the first few miles stepping aside for the many bikes but otherwise enjoyed a scenic hike.
Holli and I gathered our food bags from the car parked at the end of segment 3. We watched as Bradd and Susan pulled away on the rugged mountain road. I felt excited and anxious as we were now on an unfamiliar part of the trail.
We hiked into segment 4 and camped in the first available clearing. The night was warm and the afternoon thundershowers did not materialize. The first three days actually were dry as clouds threatened but nothing more than sprinkles fell.
August 10, 2015
Segment 4 marked the beginning of the first wilderness area for southbound hikers. The Lost Creek Wilderness contains much of the trail in this segment. Bicycles are not allowed in wilderness areas and must follow a detour on forest roads. The absence of bikes made for a very quiet and peaceful day.
The CT carried us above 10,000 feet in elevation for the first time and did it in grand style. The trail left the forest and entered a six mile long meadow that steadily carried us higher and higher. Mountains on either side of the meadow kept us sheltered somewhat from the developing storm clouds.
Wildflowers covered the meadow in a thick carpet of red, yellow, blue, and purple. The types were unfamiliar to me and completely different species than the Great Plains types growing in segments 1-3.
The trail topped out at the end of the meadow and dropped back into the spruce forest. We had leap frogged with Ryan and Julie most of the afternoon and found them at a scenic overlook. The vast grassland of South Park lay below with the mountains along the Continental Divide looming beyond. Just when the scenery couldn’t be any better along the meadow the Colorado Trail impressed us with one more stunning landscape.
The trail left segment 4 and we pushed on into 5 to find a home for the night. My Achilles’ tendons were smarting so I eagerly set up camp in the first level clearing. Light rain pushed us into the tent before dark.
August 11, 2015
Like most mornings, we awoke to a blue sky to begin our trek through segment 5. We packed up camp and were on the trail by 7:30 am.
We passed through a series of high meadows that seemed to be in a rain shadow as the sun beat down on us while the surrounding peaks where shrouded in dark clouds and showers of rain hanging below them.
We arrived at Kenosha Pass and Highway 285 by early afternoon. We could see a continuous line of cars and trucks ascending and descending the mountain road from several miles away so it was a relief to finally reach the trailhead.
We met fellow hiker Chuck at the parking area. After visiting with Chuck for awhile we learned that he is on his way back from Durango and nearing the completion of a yo-yo of the Colorado Trail. A yo-yo is defined as walking a trail and turning around at the end and walking back. He has also done the Appalachian Trail (the same year I finished) and the Pacific Crest Trail twice. He offered us a lot of encouragement and good advice.
The rain began to fall as we left Chuck and it continued for the next four miles. South Park expanded to the horizon on our left and mountains rose from the trail on our right.
It was cold and damp as we set up camp near Deadman Creek 4.5 miles into segment 6 so we were under our quilts before dark. The altitude has been causing some insomnia but the 10 or 12 hours off my feet every night has allowed me to feel refreshed every morning.
August 12, 2015
Segment 6 is the longest segment on the Colorado Trail at 32.7 miles. We left camp early because Georgia Pass was the major landmark we needed to cross before storms formed along the divide.
We topped Georgia Pass well before noon. The sky was blue and a stiff cold wind blew across the treeless tundra. 11,874 feet was the top of the pass and marked our crossing of the Continental Divide. The Colorado Trail joined Continental Divide Trail (CDT) about a 1/4 mile passed the divide. We will hike on the CDT for the next 314 miles as the two trails parallel the spine of the continent.
We descended from the pass and soon entered the spruce forest flanking the mountain sides. The day ended by arriving at the North Fork of the Swan River.
We set up camp in sunshine and scraped together some odds and ends from the food bag for supper. Chicken soup, salmon, and Parmesan cheese was on the menu. I had a throbbing headache so laid in the tent after supper, read a chapter from my book, and fell asleep before 7 pm.
August 13, 2015
Today is town day! Thirteen miles of walking and we would soon be on the Summit Stage bus to Breckenridge. The bus makes regular stops along Highway 9 between Breckenridge and Frisco. One of the stops is where the CT crosses the highway.
We made good time as we hiked our way past Keystone Ski Area and down toward the highway. Soon we could hear the hum of highway noise. Buildings were sprawled out across the valley and Breckenridge Ski area towered over the valley to the south.
So far we have completed 104.4 miles and the first six segments of the Colorado Trail.
Holli and I booked a room at the Fireside Inn Hostel and mingled with clean smelling tourists of Breckenridge for the rest of the day.
We met with Ryan and Julie for supper that night and met a lot of adventurous people from all over the country at the hostel. We are staying here for three nights while we hike segment 7 to Copper Mountain Resort on Friday and take a day off on Saturday.